Student Stories: touring Morocco and learning lessons from war

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Over spring break 2019, the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy hosted its annual international staff ride.  Led by Professor Peter Feaver, 40 Duke students, faculty, alumni and guests traveled throughout Gibraltar and Morocco tracing the steps of Operation Torch, part of the US North Africa Campaign during World War II. 

The AGS Staff Ride to Morocco was the highlight of the semester for me and for many of the students who took part. Our team came from a wide range of backgrounds, from first-year students going on their first trip with AGS to veteran staff riders. We learned a great deal from each other’s experiences and presentations, and by the end of the trip, I had taken away much more than I could have gained in a classroom. – Bo Carlson, political science major


A staff ride is a powerful academic tool for surfacing how tactical, operational, strategic, political, and ethical decisions interact. Created in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars by the Prussians, staff rides have become an important educational tool for militaries where officers walk the battlefields of previous wars, observe the terrain and take the roles of leaders on all sides. In the same tradition, students research and come to understand pivotal decisions by standing on the battlefield, examining the psychology of leadership through the eyes of key decision-makers and reliving their decisions through role-playing.

I have participated on two international staff rides, playing the pacifist philosopher Bertrand Russell for the World War I Endgame staff ride (2018) and Morocco’s Sultan Muhammad V for the Operation Torch staff ride (2019). AGS staff rides draw on context and first-hand experience to reflect on the strategic dilemmas of military planners and political leaders. The trips also provide a remarkable outlet into the personal dilemmas of war, dilemmas about one’s character, values, and bedrock beliefs, which reflect war’s characteristic meaning in human affairs. My participation on AGS has solidified my conviction in the absolute moral necessity of preventing war, and broadened my perspective on the awful devastation that warfare can bring. – Elliot Mamet (PhD candidate)

Trekking through Gibraltar, Tangier, Fes, Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech, students were challenged to play the roles of military and war-period characters alongside faculty and military experts to learn the stakes of war.  The group debated strategy from these perspectives of embroiled contemporaries of war to learn the true costs and sacrifices of leadership.  To connect past lessons-learned to America’s role in the current international environment, the group held meetings with the US Defense Attaché and Charge d’Affaires at the embassy in Rabat and with the US Consul General in Casablanca.